Peak Performance: How North Carolina Athletes Harness the Power of Positive Thinking

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How North Carolina Athletes Harness the Power of Positive Thinking

If you’ve spent any time around the world of sports these days—whether as a player, fan, coach or parent—you’re almost certain to have heard about the connection between mental skills coaching and performance on the playing field. 

Sports psychology has existed for decades as athletes try to find any performance advantage they can get, whether it’s studying their opponents’ body language for nonverbal cues of what they’re planning or learning how to stay calm under pressure, creating the “clutch gene” that athletes like Tom Brady have used to become all-time greats.

 In recent years, the increased focus on mental health and preparedness has made mental skills coaching, no matter if it’s the simple act of positive thinking or more complex theories, catch on from the professional and college leagues all the way down to the high school level. Here’s a look at how it’s being used in North Carolina… often to great success.

What is Mental Skills Coaching?

The phrase gets thrown around constantly, but you don’t often hear exactly what mental skills coaching is: so before we begin, I’ll give you a brief run down of what the process entails. 

When one typically thinks of mental skills, it’s probably the low moments that come to mind. If an athlete has a bad game or is struggling to keep their emotions under control, mental skills coaching is absolutely a good way for them to rebound, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg in the sports performance focused field. 

Mental skills coaching can help athletes prepare to stay cool under pressure, practice to complete puzzles while an instructor shouts conflicting instructions at them or actively works to impede their progress. Indeed, the connection between mental skills and physical skills runs the opposite way as well.

 Just as taking care of one’s mental health can improve athletic performance, physical practices can help to boost one’s mental game: like focusing on breathing properly in order to stay calm while completing those aforementioned puzzles.

One of the great advantages of mental skills coaching extends beyond the playing field into daily experiences. Young athletes not only learn to regulate their emotions and prioritize their physical well-being but also acquire abilities beneficial for navigating life’s challenges. This includes maintaining composure during the mundane waits at the DMV or leveraging promo codes in North Carolina for thoughtful decision-making in activities like placing bets.

The Power of Positivity

Now that we understand the basics of mental skills coaching, let’s look at how athletes in the Tar Heel State use these concepts to succeed. One great example stems from the Greensboro Grasshoppers, who are a High-A minor league affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates of Major League Baseball. As mental skills coaching becomes more prevalent, coaches and general managers realize the importance of providing these resources to all of the players in their organization, not just the ones in the big leagues.

While he ended up getting promoted to Double-A late last season, former Grasshoppers’ pitcher Bubba Chandler spoke at length about the impact that a positive mindset has had on his career. Chandler used to be a two-way player, serving as both a position player and a pitcher during his time on the field, but the Pirates told him to focus solely on pitching ahead of the 2023 season. He described how the instruction sent his season off the rails during the first few months, causing him to feel bitter and angry. Those feelings translated to his performance on the mound and compounded as he continued to struggle.

Over time, Chandler learned to adopt a new mindset, finding other outlets to serve as an escape from the world of baseball, like video games and playing golf. By finding new ways to spend his time, Chandler was able to have fun and distract himself, coming to terms with his new career path and maturing as a person.

Other Grasshoppers who have used mental skills coaching to succeed are Termarr Johnson, the Pirates first round draft pick in 2022, as well as infielder Jase Bowen, who was one of the best power hitters in the entire Carolina League last season.

Johnson dealt with an early season injury that sidelined him for several weeks, and decided to tap in to the organization’s mental skills coaching in order to learn how to stay focused and motivated while he waited to heal. 

Bowen, meanwhile, spent the 2022-23 offseason playing baseball in Australia. While the opportunity to travel and play was an excellent experience, he also ended up homesick, thousands and thousands of miles away from his family. Mental skills coaching helped him to get through that rut… and maybe even provided the impetus for his excellent season.

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